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The Spice King and Founder of MDH: A Journey of Grit, Courage and Determination

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How Mahashayji overcame the many adversities that came his way and through doughty pluckiness and an enterprising spirit scripted the success story of India’s most popular masala brand .

The Spice King and Founder of MDH: A Journey of Grit, Courage and Determination
Besides being a manufacturer, MDH is also a distributor and exporter of ground spices and spice mixtures

All of us have a life to live but very few people live a life truly inspiring and extraordinary. The life of the 95-year-old founder and CEO of (MDH), Dharampal Gulati, is studded with so many crowning accomplishments that ordinary mortals might take several lifetimes to achieve. Born on March 27, 1923, in the city of Sialkot, Pakistan, he was raised in a loving family where the parents wanted him to study and get a good education. Dharampal’s father Chuni Lal sold spices from a small shop , which he opened in 1919. However, due to fortuitous circumstances, the boy’s studies had to be cut short early in life. When he was in the fifth standard, Dharampal quit school to help his father at the shop.

Although it can be said that Dharampal had to give his studies a go-by, the boy did not miss out on getting a worthwhile education in the school of hard knocks of life – something that helped shape and build his character and spirit. The family migrated from Pakistan to India at the time of partition, and stayed at a refugee camp in Amritsar for a while. Dharampal, along with his brother-in-law, then travelled to Delhi in search of work, and stayed at his niece’s flat. After spending some tough, gruelling years, when he pushed his luck trying his hands at and dabbling in many things, he eventually found the spice trade, which became his calling card thereafter. With a humble beginning from a modest shop in Karol Bagh, Delhi, Dharampal Gulati laid the building blocks and the foundation of his future empire in the spice business, whose worth is multi-crore today and growing in value.

The ‘spice maker from Sialkot’ was now getting popular by the word of mouth. Local fame brought in more business and more business brought in more money. As the business took off, Dharampal rented another shop in Chandni Chowk in 1953. He then decided to purchase a plot in Kirti Nagar in 1959 to start his own factory, and this led to the birth of Mahashian Di Hatti Limited. The company is one of the biggest brands of spices in the country today.

Besides being a manufacturer, MDH is also a distributor and exporter of ground spices and spice mixtures. It specializes in several unique traditional blends of spices suitable for different recipes. Currently, MDH has more than 60 products in its kitty and it exports to about 100 countries, including the U.K., Europe, U.A.E., USA, Canada, South East Asia and others. Its best-selling products include Deggi Mirch, Chat Masala and Chana Masala – each selling roughly a crore packets every month. The company has about two dozen factories in India, supplies its products to over 1,500 dealers, and has offices in Dubai and London.

Dadaji or Mahashayji, as Dharampal Gulati is fondly referred to – attributes the success of his company to sheer hard work and quality of the product. “Spices are our core product and in the near future we will be only concentrating on this category,” he says.

Ask him about the new players entering the spice segment, and how intensifying competition can dent into MDH’s market share – a substantial slice of the organized spices market – and he says: “The quality of our products is much higher as compared to the new entrants as these companies are dependent on machines to grind spices, while we still use the age-old technique of mortar and pestle.”

With a zest and vigor that is uncommon to find in a person of his age, Mahashayji takes everything in his stride and is forever looking to widen the scope and reach of his products in the Indian market and abroad. “I feel there is a lot of scope to widen the Indian spices market and for converting consumers from unbranded products.”

At 95 years, Dharampal Gulati is probably the oldest CEO in the corporate world. At his venerable age when even the most industrious of souls have long walked into the sunset of life, Mahashayji remains full of beans, sprightly and radio-active as ever.

“My motivation to work comes from being sincere in the quality of product and to sell it at affordable prices. We dictate the prices in the market as rivals follow us to make their pricing strategy. Since we want to keep our business low margin, it helps the overall category grow due to affordability.”

The fifth grade school dropout earns an envious pay packet – over Rs 20 crore per annum – which could be the envy of the head honchos of leading conglomerates and diversifi ed firms.

“Nearly 90 per cent of my salary goes to charity in my personal capacity,” he reveals. The charities are run under the banner of Mahashay Chuni Lal Charitable Trust, which operates a hospital with 250 beds in Delhi. The trust also runs a mobile hospital, which reaches out to slum dwellers. Four schools are also being run by this trust, and it provides financial support to people in need.

As the face of India’s most popular spice brand, Mahashayji’s benign and bewhiskered visage is instantanously recognizable to millions of Indians across the country. Not one to cut himself any slack, Mahashayji remains as involved and engaged in his company activities as any bright-eyed young executive. Among sundry other things, his daily activities include taking a round of his factories, meetings with company officials and dealers even on Sundays and attending to a host of other responsibilities, including social and charitable work. The grand patriarch also holds a 80 per cent stake in MDH and still oversees each and every aspect of the business – from sourcing of raw materials to the supply of the final product. And the best part is that he has no plans to retire and retreat into the background.

(With inputs from Charu Lamba)